Borneo Travel Guide: Kuching
Farmboy and I headed to Borneo for 12 days in July last year. We had a great time, and would definitely recommend it. We had a few ups and downs, mainly due to the environmental damage , it was terribly sad to see so much deforestation. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I was traveling with anyone else, but Farmboy was an environmental consultant is his former life and so was more aware than me (I thought there was a lot of green but what I thought was natural vegetation was 9 times out of 10 palm oil plantations). We also knew very little about Borneo (apart from the fact that it is one of the last places where you can see Orangutan in their natural habitat), and actually ended up deciding to go there because it had the cheapest flights and seemed like a very unique holiday destination.
We spent the first part of our holiday in Kuching (2 days), moving onto Bantang Ai lake (3 days), then Kota Kinabalu (2 days) and then onto Semporna (1 day) & Mabul Island (4 days). As there is so much to say about our trip I am going to breaking up these posts into different parts. In this part I will be talking about Kuching. In part two I will be talking about Bantang Ai Lake; Part 3 I will be talking about Kota Kinabalu and finally in Part 4 I will write about Semporna & the scuba diving we did on Mabul Island.
You may be thinking of heading to Borneo soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together this travel guide, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.
Borneo is the name given to the biggest island in Asia (it's really big!) and is actually made up of 3 countries; Malaysia, Brunei & Indonesia. Malaysia & Brunei are far more geared to tourism (this has its perks but at the same time means that places are very touristy) whereas the Indonesian side is a lot more rural and natural. As we only had 2 weeks for our holiday we decided on Malaysian Borneo. If you are looking for a more authentic Bornean experience and you have more time, look into traveling around Indonesia Borneo. Also bear in mind the different visa requirements for Borneo & Malaysia before you travel.
We flew from Incheon into Kuching (with an overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur). If you do have more than a 4 hour layover at night in Kuala Lumpur, I highly recommend booking into the new capsule hotel in Kuala Lumpur Airport (click here). It was fully booked when we arrived and we spent a very uncomfortable 6 hours sleeping under a cold concrete bench, hanging onto our belongings for dear life. The hotels in and around the airport are expensive and get booked up fast. You can book per hour at the capsule hotel and looked like a really fun experience.
Getting a taxi at the Airport
We arrived in Kuching at 8am and got a taxi to our guesthouse in Kuching. Most of the taxis in at the airports in Malaysian Borneo are regulated. You stand in a link and tell the teller where you are going and they then issue you a taxi voucher. You then give this voucher to the taxi driver and off you go. No dealing with cash or bargaining or being taken advantage of. It was such a different experience to Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia & the Philippines.
We spent 1 night in Kuching at Travellers Homestay in the Chinese Quarter of Kuching. It was a wonderful place, clean and so beautifully decorated and the host, Mai, was just wonderful. Such a warm and welcoming lady and we loved our stay at her guesthouse.
*W20 000 a night for a double room with aircon
The guesthouse is above the family run restaurant, and she is in the process of opening up a cooking centre to offer cooking courses to guests. The food was great and I highly recommend staying there if you're in Kuching.
Things to do in Kuching
We spent the day wondering around Kuching. Kuching is known as the City Of Cats. We walked from Travellers Homestay into the centre of town and spent some time wondering along the harbor. That night there was a food festival in town which was fun to wonder around.
Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Our main reason for visiting Kuching was to see the Orangutan at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. The Nature Reserve is home to the Orangutan rehabilitation centre, where you have a high chance of seeing Orangutan. The orangutans there are semi-wild which means that they live in a large area of trees around the reserve and feed themselves. Food is put out twice daily by the staff at the nature reserve to supplement that feeding. This means that during fruiting seasons when food is plentiful within the trees, the orangutans may have no need to (and don’t) visit the platforms. There are two feeding times a day (09h00 and 15h00) but best to get there early. The Oragutan are incredibly shy animals, and it's not guaranteed that they will come out at feeding time. We unfortunately were around a very noisy group of tourists who just wouldn't keep quiet. As the Oragutan are very shy, I'm sure the noise put them off. We had terrible luck and didn't see any oragutan, but travellers we met along our trip had seen the King, Reggie and a number of females with babies. We were really sad to miss them.
The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is easy to get to from Kuching by local bus.
From Kuching town centre, you want the number K6 or 6 from bus station number 2 which is near the mosque. Mai, our host at Traveller Homestay dropped us at the bus station. The bus leaves Kuching at: 7h20am, 9h50am, 1pm & 3pm. Returning from Semenggoh Nature Reserve at 8.20am, 11.15am, 2.05pm & 4.05pm (correct in August 2015).
Tickets are RM3 per person each way, and the bus ride is about 45 minutes (but up to 1 hour). The bus adrops you right in front of the ticket office.
If you don't mind forking out some money for a taxi, it's about RM30 per way per taxi.
Entrance is RM10 per non-Malaysian adult for a single entry ticket. There are toilets just behind the office here. From there you walk about 20 minutes to get to the feeding area. It’s a nice walk with lots of trees, plants and animal calls to keep you entertained but it is just along the main road so be careful of the cars and tour buses which wizz pass you.
Once you’ve reached the actaul entrance to the Rehabilitation Area there are more toilets, a shop selling drinks and this is where you will congregate to hear a briefing. This is a safety briefings you need to listen to as they tell you what to do and what not to do to in terms of behaviour to ensure you’re respecting the environment of the animals but also to make sure you’re not seen as confrontational or a threat by the orangutans.
After a very disappointing few hours, we walked back to the entrance to the park where we were picked up by our hotel (Hilton Bantang Ai) in their shuttle to make the 4 hour journey to Bantang Ai. Even though we didn't see Oragutans it was still a nice way to spend the morning, and walking through the lush jungle of the National park was fun.
Look our for Part 2 of our trip where I will be talking about Bantang Ai Lake and our stay at the Hilton.